Housing Is Harm Reduction

Housing is harm reductionWe are proud to support a new awareness-raising campaign that is taking off on social media. The ‘Housing Is Harm Reduction’ slogan refers to the fact that safe accommodation is a prerequisite to reducing the harms, to both individuals and communities, from drug misuse.

The Harm Reduction movement was born in Liverpool in 1985, when the first needle exchange programme in the UK was opened on Maryland Street in the city centre to help stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. Since then, the ethos of working with active drug users to help them prevent a range of harm from drugs has gone global following the first International Conference of the Reduction of Drug Related Harm was held here in 1990.

Alan Matthews, Chair of Trustees at Bosco House, was one of the original workers that set up the needle exchange and developed the idea of harm reduction interventions. He said: “In the early days, around 1985, HIV and AIDS was virtually unknown in the UK. Then we began to hear reports of drug injectors in Edinburgh becoming infected with HIV through sharing injection equipment.”

“That prompted us to take a leap into the dark, even though we knew it was the right thing to do, and set up the needle exchange. There was only four of us working at the Maryland Street office at the time, but we soon attracted over 300 people who regularly came to bring back used needles and syringes. So we knew it would work, and it has. A ten-year review of our HIV prevention work published in 1996 concluded that we had averted a major epidemic in the UK.”

“We also began to attract homeless people who were injecting heroin and it quickly became obvious to us that being homeless was a real obstacle to maintaining effective interventions. All the counseling and methadone you can give a person isn’t worth anything if they are sleeping rough or haven’t got a safe place to lay their head at night. That experience, gained all those years ago, and my work now at Bosco House, is why I’m backing Housing Is Harm Reduction.”